“It brings me right back to Vietnam”: Veteran with PTSD says fireworks are triggering

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE): The sound of fireworks late at night and unexpectedly, has become an annoyance to many neighbors, but it can also be triggering for some veterans who suffer from PTSD.

Ronald Whitcomb was drafted in 1967 and served in Vietnam as an E5 squad leader. Although he’s spent decades recovering, the fireworks bring him right back to Vietnam.

“I’m mowing the lawn and I’ve got thoughts of Vietnam like I don’t really always have anymore,” Whitcomb said.  “My core being that was in the war comes right back.”

Whitcomb has been part of the Providence VA Medical Center since they first opened their PTSD clinic.

“The pop, pop, pop, well that sounds like a machine gun to me,” Whitcomb said. “I  think about the sniper and then I go through and experience it when someone was killed. They get to me.”

Whitcomb said the explosions send him back to a troubling time. At one point, he was suicidal.

“I had trouble going outside on my own property,” Whitcomb said. “I felt there were snipers. I had this overwhelming feeling that I would be shot at, at any time”

In Rhode Island, there are about 65,000 veterans. While not every veteran suffers from PTSD, William Unger, a clinical psychiatrist at the Providence VA Medical Center, said the unexpected aspect of fireworks is what can be triggering.

“It’s not only the sound but the smell because it’s gun powder, the flash of light,  all of those are stimuli which trigger the memory of what happened to them in the past,” Dr. Unger said.

Whitcomb hopes the next time people light off fireworks, they can keep veterans like him in mind.

“You are going to be putting someone through hell that lives next door to you,” Whitcomb said. “You don’t know that but maybe you should find out.”

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